Argentina: in the footsteps of Che Guevara

By | Category: Travel destinations

Walk in Che’s footsteps

It’s fair to say that Che Guevara – whose iconic image (think beard, black beret with a star and that intense stare) adorns t-shirts, posters and CD covers around the world – is a bit of marmite figure.

For some, the guerrilla fighter who became part of the high command during the Cuban Revolution, is Argentina’s favourite son, cherished for fighting against imperialism and social oppression the world over – so much so that French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, said of Che: “He’s not only an intellectual, but also the most complete human being of our age”.

However for others, the bearded, asthmatic (through cigar chain-smoking) Argentine doctor who became the poster boy of Fidel Castro’s Cuban communist revolution, is nothing more than a squalid killer (not for nothing did he earn the nickname The Butcher of La Cabaña) and totalitarian tyrant.

But like him or loathe him, one thing is certain: if you’re travelling around Argentina, there’s no escaping Che – who was born Ernesto Guevara in the the Argentine town of Rosario back in 1928 – whose presence continues to be felt everywhere you turn.

Touched down in Argentina to follow in Che’s footsteps? Walk this way….

MIRAMAR
Fans of The Motorcycle Diaries – be it the book or the film based on Che’s memoirs – will want to make for Miramar. Located just south of Mar del Plata  – Argentina’s classic beach destination – Miramar was where Guevara (and his travelling companion Alberto Granado) first stopped off on his epic trip around South America as Che’s girlfiend, Chichina, was holidaying here with her family. Fast forward to 2016 and Miramar is still a hit with sun worshippers who flock here in their droves come summer, for the long wide beach and gentle waves.
Beyond the beach, get the endorphins going by horse back riding, golfing or fishing. Consult the tourist office (www.miramar.tur.ar) on the corner of Calle 21 and Costaneros for full details.

ROSARIO
The birthplace of the Argentine flag and Lionel Messi – aka the world’s best footballer – was also the birthplace of one Ernesto Guevara. Anyone on a Che pilgrimage will want to check out Entre Rios 480 – the apartment that served as Che’s first home. However Rosario’s most redeeming feature is arguably its revitalised waterfront. Once full of derelict warehouses, the Waterfront is now Rosario’s most successful tourist area and for good reason: it’s an appealing place to people watch, enjoy a stroll or cortado (essentially a shot of espresso, with an equal amount of steamed milk)  and medialuna (small croissant) in an elegant cafe. Another must is the Monumento Nacional a La Bandera – a colossal stone oblesik beneath which Manuel Belgrano – the man who designed the Argentine flag – rests in a crypt.
www.rosario.gov.ar

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ALTA GRACIA
Looking for a great day trip from Cordoba (Argentina’s second city)? We have the answer: Alta Gracia. This postcard perfect mountain town – expect sleepy streets, shady parks and picturesque plazas – is famous for its World Heritage site listed 17th century estancia (ranch) which was built between 1643-1762 by Jesuit fathers, but Alta Gracia has an affinity with Che too.
Guevara’s parents moved the family to the mountain town in 1932, after Doctors advised a drier climate to help combat Che’s severe asthma. The family resided in a house called Villa Beatriz which now serves as public museum (Museo Casa de Ernesto Che Guevara, Avellaneda 501; entry AR$75) where the curious can a little more about this controversial figure through a vast photographic display. An adjacent shop sells Che memorabilia – step forward t-shirts, stamps, cigars etc.
www.altagracia.gob.ar

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Che Guevara: a brief biography
Che Ernesto Guevara was an Argentinean-born, Cuban revolutionary leader who became a left-wing hero and whose photograph by Alberto Korda – has become one of the most iconic images in the world – alongside Elvis and Coca-Cola.

Born in 1928 in the north eastern Argentine town of Rosario, Che studied medicine in Buenos Aires – Argentina’s charismatic  capital – before spending six months travelling around South America by motorbike. The wide spread poverty Che saw and encountered on this journey, served as the basis for his Marxist beliefs.

After his spell travelling around South America, Che travelled to central America where, in Mexico, he met Fidel Castro and other Cuban exiles.  The rebels sailed to Cuba where they started the revolution that ultimately overthrew the Batista government in the late 1950s. Che went on to hold a key political position in Cuba during Castro’s regime, but found the bureaucracy to be unfulfilling and began to fall out with other Cuban leaders. Subsequently Guevara tried to engaged in guerrilla action and spread revolution Africa – especially the Congo – his native Argentina and ultimately Bolivia where was executed in 1967, by the Bolivian army with US assistance.

His body was buried in a secret location but, in 1997, Che’s remains were discovered, exhumed and returned to Cuba, where he was reburied. That same year – the 30th anniversary of his death in 1997, the Argentine government issued a postage stamp celebrating Che’s Argentine roots.

In death, as in life, Che continues to divide opinion. He’s still seen by millions as a symbol of hope, who gave his life for the people while simultaneously condemned by many for being anti-democratic (Guevara was opposed to elections and private property ownership for starters) and for ordering the execution of hundreds of Batista supporters.

Che’s now-iconic image was snapped at a memorial service by Cuban newspaper photographer Alberto Korda. It should have made Korda rich and famous, but didn’t. Revolución – the paper Korda worked for – declined to use the photo which ended up adorning the wall of his studio, until  it was spotted in early 1967 by radical Italian publisher, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, who made frequent visits to Cuba in the early years of the revolution and had once planned to ghost Castro’s biography.

Korda gifted the photograph to Feltrinelli, as a friend of the revolution. In October of that same year, Che was captured and killed by the Bolivian army. Feltrinelli printed thousand of posters of Che and began selling them – the rest is history. Feltrinelli became a rich man as a result of what is now acknowledged to be the world’s most published photograph. Korda, however, never received any royalties until 2007 when he sued Smirnoff, who used Che’s image to sell vodka. Korda won around US$50,000 — which he donated to the Cuban healthcare system saying, simply: “If Che were still alive, he would have done the same.”

 

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